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Jazz mashed with Christmas carols (and more!) at the end of December

For earlier in December, see More jazz than Jingle Bells in the second week of December

Even as we get closer to Christmas, there's lots of opportunities to clear your musical palate with jazz.

Gaby Warren presents his annual pre-Christmas JazzWorks jam for the 16th year. ©Brett Delmage, 2013It's now become a 16-year tradition: Ottawa vocalist and jazz aficionado Gaby Warren hosts the JazzWorks Christmas jazz jam. Warren has an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz – and not just his specialty, Afro-Cuban jazz – and can amaze you by recounting the musicians whom he's heard in person. Each year he brings this experience to picking his song list – mostly jazz classics with just a touch of seasonal music – and then performs them with a group of fine jazz musicians.

His group's 45-minute set starts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, December 16, at the Georgetown Pub in Ottawa South – don't be late! After that, the stage is open for jamming.

On Saturday, December 17, you can celebrate the season with two high-profile concerts. At Live! on Elgin, vocalist Renée Landry pays tribute to Ella Fitzgerald's famous 1960 album, Ella Wishes You A Swinging Christmas, backed by six experienced musicians from Ottawa's younger jazz crowd. At the show, she's also releasing an EP, A Christmas Night, with her music and lyrics, produced by pianist Clayton Connell and with arrangements by Richard Page. The show is currently sold out.Watch for your opportunity to win a copy of this CD from us.

GigSpace, Ottawa's intimate jazz venue, is marking its fifth anniversary with two “Jazzin’ the Holidays” fundraisers on December 17 with Toronto-area vocalist and pianist Micah Barnes. Barnes is best-known for the years he spent singing in The Nylons; more recently, he has recorded a series of critically acclaimed solo jazz recordings. This spring, he released New York Stories, which evokes “the rich musical history of the Big Apple with songs that describe a long distance romance using the rhythms of the Cotton Club, the Brill Building, The Apollo Theatre and classic Broadway”.

Chris Maskell has a busy performance schedule in Ottawa in December ©Brett Delmage, 2015Also on December 17, 45north plays its jazz versions of Canadian pop and jazz music at Fatboy's Southern Smokehouse in the Market. You can also hear them at The Rainbow on Tuesday, December 20.

Early Saturday afternoon, saxophonist Chris Maskell and pianist Peter Hum will play a two-hander of “a more relaxed set of tunes, and maybe even a carol or two” in a free show at The Record Centre. Maskell is back the next evening, Sunday, December 18, in a concert with two other highly promising young musicians – pianist Deniz Lim-Sersan and bassist Ben Heard – down the street at Bar Robo in Chinatown, for an evening of jazz standards and improvisation.

Also on December 18, Bernard Stepien presents his annual “A Very Ayler Christmas” show at IMOO at the House of Common. This year is the 10th anniversary of the project, which started when Stepien realized that the free jazz of 60s avant-garde musician Albert Ayler – who was steeped in gospel and military music – had many musical similarities to classic Christmas carols. So he mashed them together: Ayler's “Spirits” with the carol “Angels From The Realm Of Glory”, “Bells” with “Joy to the World”, “Prophecy” with “God Rest you Merry, Gentlemen”, and “Spirit Rejoyce” with “I Wish You A Merry Christmas”. The result was a tribute to both Ayler's music and the holidays.

OttawaJazzScene.ca's nside the Scene: A Very Ayler Christmas [2011]

Over the last decade, Stepien has continued to re-energize the project, changing musicians and adding new repertoire, and even composing his own Ayler-influenced Christmas carol, “Winter Solstice Bells”. He released a CD of the music in 2010. Every year it's different, and every year it's fun to hear. As Stepien said: “The plot is very simple: ensure that the listener can no longer determine what belongs to the Carol from what belongs to Albert Ayler’s composition. The long term goal of course is to have every Canadian singing Ayler tunes by the Christmas tree forever...”

Patrick Smith plays Sonny Rollins with Keagan Eskritt and Ben Heard [2014]

Ottawa saxophonist Patrick Smith is currently studying jazz performance at the University of Toronto and has been playing widely in that city. He's formed an improvising free jazz trio there called Saorsa, together with two other up-and-coming improvisers and composers: guitarist Dan Pitt and drummer Harrison Vetro. They're touring this month and recording an EP in February.

Kevin Laliberté will play Christmas music from around the world with the Sultans of String ©Brett Delmage, 2016The band is going for the edgy and the accomplished in its influences: current improvisers like Chris Speed, Tony Malaby, Joe Morris, Tyshawn Sorey, and Peter Brotzmann, as well as jazz masters like Ornette Coleman and Paul Motian. Smith says they're striving to “create a unique sound, rich with intent in the bustling Toronto jazz scene and the confusing global world we live in.”

Saorsa will host Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago on December 19, along with bassist Alex Bilodeau: playing the opening set and then opening the second set for others to sit in. On Wednesday, December 21, they'll perform a more formal concert at Pressed in Centretown West. The duo of drummer Keagan Eskritt (who is also studying at U of T) and his mentor, master guitarist Roddy Ellias, will open that show.

On Tuesday, December 20, the Sultans of String return to the National Arts Centre after their well-received jazz/sitar concert there last spring. They'll have a completely different repertoire for this show: a Christmas Fiesta which will mix their originals, world-music inspired classics, and seasonal favourites, with folk vocalist Rebecca Campbell as guest. There will be at least some jazz: they promise something from A Charlie Brown Christmas, a Gypsy-jazz inspired “Django Christmas”, and a “Rumba-Flamenca fuelled Jingle Bells”. The group is planning to release a Christmas Fiesta CD next year.

On Wednesday, December 21, saxophonist Petr Cancura presents a “Holidaze Show” at Bar Robo with talented friends Zakari Frantz, Roddy Ellias, John Geggie, and Michel Delage. They'll play “some Christmas and holiday classics sweetly deranged in the spirit of jazz”. Expect some special guests as well.

December 21 is the winter solstice: the shortest day of the year. Ottawa vocalist Rebecca Noelle will mark that date by debuting her new CD, Soulstice, at the Mercury Lounge, supported by six local jazz instrumentalists and three backing vocalists. Noelle describes original songs on the CD as drawn from "Lessons learned, love lost, speaking with your inner voice and gaining the confidence to put yourself out there." The feel of the music is derived from jazz, "but given a neo-soul, funk treatment with the brass and vocal harmonies." She'll perform the whole CD at the show, plus "a Bill Withers cover tune surprise just for fun".

Just before Christmas (December 23-24), drummer Michel Delage will present “Jazzy Holiday Music” in the Options Jazz Lounge at Brookstreet. Saxophonist Petr Cancura (December 23 only) and pianist Steve Boudreau will be among the musicians contributing to the cheer – and should keep it cool, not cornball.

Betty Ann Bryanton will sing jazz and traditional music at MacKay United on Christmas Eve ©Brett Delmage, 2016On Christmas Eve, vocalist Betty Ann Bryanton will be the featured guest at a late-afternoon family worship service at MacKay United Church in New Edinburgh. She'll sing both jazz and traditional music with the church's choir, and the service will be led by jazz saxophonist and minister Peter Woods.

Chris Maskell has been very busy this month, including hosting all but one Jazz Mondays at Le Petit Chicago, with different musicians each week. On December 26, he's planning to have his final show present an electric jazz project which he and pianist Deniz Lim-Sersan have been working on this month. Besides Maskell and Lim-Sersan, the band will include Steve Bilodeau (up from Boston for Christmas) on guitar, Alex Bilodeau on electric bass, and Michel Delage on drums. If the electric project isn't quite ready, Maskell says they'll likely do an acoustic quintet night with the same group.

For New Year's Eve, the jazz pickings aren't as plentiful as in previous years. At Festival Japan downtown, crooner and pianist Noel Dimar, who was a fixture for two decades at Friday's Roast Beef House, will perform music from the Great American Songbook and Broadway. He'll also include movie themes and hit parade numbers from the '40s to the '90s as sung by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Dean Martin.

At Madison's New York Grill & Bar downtown, Adrian Cho and the Ottawa Jazz Orchestra will have two different jazz offerings: the duo of trumpeter Ed Lister and guitarist Terence Wright from 6 to 9 p.m., and a quartet, featuring vocalist Diane Nalini, from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. The orchestra specializes in classic jazz from the 40s to the 60s.

At Zolas in Bells Corners, saxophonist Davina Pearl will team up with two long-time members of the scene: Martine Courage on piano and vocals and Gerg Horvath on bass, for playful interpretations of familiar jazz tunes, along with some tasty blues and Latin numbers to round out the mix.

And at Brookstreet in Kanata, the Options Jazz Lounge will feature a sextet led by pianist Miguel de Armas with several musicians he doesn't usually perform with, including Roberto Riveron from Toronto on bass. Expect Afro-Cuban and Latin jazz with passion and intensity, and a vocal punch from Caridad Cruz. It will be an optimistic way to start 2017!

Know of any other jazz on New Year's Eve in Ottawa-Gatineau? Let us know at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

On New Year's Day, you can start the year off with jazz and funk at the first Sunday Session at Irene's Pub in the Glebe. Each Sunday night in January, the seven-piece groove outfit ERU-ERA – with a good selection of local jazz musicians – will play new tunes by trumpeter Ed Lister. Don't go there with a hangover!

There's lots more jazz coming up in 2017! OttawaJazzScene.ca will inform you about the highlights at the end of 2016. There are also many regular shows and jazz jams around Ottawa-Gatineau which we haven't mentioned here: sign up to our weekly newsletter to get the full story.

    – Alayne McGregor

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